The Unwritten Rules of Boating Etiquette

April 30, 2013

Even if you’re new to boating, you probably already know the basics about the “Rules of the Road.” Those are the general things you need to know when operating your boat, especially when there are other boats in the area such as how to know who has the right of way and when it’s okay to pass another vessel. But there is another category of customs and traditions that help us, as boaters, get along independently while respecting that right for others. We’ll just call it basic boating etiquette.

Just as there are social norms you’re expected to know on land, you’ve got to know certain basic rules of boating etiquette if you’re going to be spending any time at all on the water. While you are definitely the master of your own nautical domain aboard your boat, remember that a little consideration for your fellow boater can go a long way toward avoiding any misunderstandings or conflicts.

As stated above, there are basic rules of the road that show you how to operate your boat, and you shouldn’t leave the dock until you’ve spent some time getting to know what you’re doing. It’s the same method you would follow with a car (on an actual road) except you don’t have brakes. The following pointers are really more to fill in the gray areas of boat operation that you’ll come across at one time or another.

Watch Your Wake

You are responsible for your own wake and any damage done by it. You’re cruising across a channel and you avoid striking a cruiser by swinging into a shallow anchorage while traveling at a pretty good speed. That’s great, but look at how much wake you’ve churned up for the other boaters on the hook. If you’ve caused boats to bang into each other or knocked someone’s grill off their deck or otherwise harmed their property, you’re the one on the hook for the damages. Big wakes in crowded spaces is bad news.

Go Easy

Slow down if another boat is trying to overtake you. This is boating, not The Fast & The Furious. Tight channels, marina entrances, etc. should be single file. But if there’s room to pass and another vessel is coming alongside you, ease off the throttle and avoid a drag race. The faster your speed, the faster they’ll have to go to get around you. For safety and the serenity of everyone around you, just slow down and let them go around.

Anchor In Order

The first one in blazes the trail. If you’re entering an anchorage, mimic the other boats in how you tie off, how you anchor, how much line to use and how much distance you allow between the other boats.

Respect Your Neighbors

If you have a loud boat (kids, music, barking dogs, smoky grills), make sure you leave plenty of space. Sound carries much farther on the water, and you can be heard clearly from a good distance away. Downwind is your friend. You never know who’s got an early getaway and is turning in early. Just like on terra firma, respecting your neighbors is the first step toward everyone “getting along.”

Be Efficient

If you’re launching or retrieving your boat at a ramp, do it efficiently. Load your boat in the parking lot. Pull your boat over to a temporary dock to bring passengers aboard. Don’t drain, don’t clean, and don’t waste time. Everyone wants to be either on the water or off the water, just like you. Think in advance about how you can cut down your ramp time. Delegate responsibilities and practice them before you get to the ramp.

Fuel And Go

As long as we’re on this subject, the same rules go for fuel docks. Get your fuel, pay your bill and move out of the way. If you need to buy groceries or a lake chart or bait, relocate your boat to the temporary docks. Again, fueling is a necessary part of your boating experience, but be considerate of other boaters who would also rather be out on the water.

Lend A Hand

This is one of the unwritten laws that can say more about you as a boater than almost anything else. You should be willing to assist other vessels as they arrive and depart. While this courtesy shouldn’t necessarily extend to the entire marina, you should be alert to help out you folks in the adjoining slips. They toss you a line and you hold it or help guide them in. Then you hand them back the line and they tie off. It just takes a minute, and you’ve shown everyone what a standup boater you are.

Keep It Clean

Marinas have enough hazards as it is without having to step over draining coolers, half-deflated tubes and sloppy dock lines. Buckets, shoes, carts and other items need to be stowed properly. And if you’ve used a piece of equipment intended for common use, put it back where you found it.